What does linear economy mean

Objects accompany our lives: we buy and use hundreds of products. Just think, for example, of the containers, like boxes, jars and bottles, which contain the food we buy at supermarkets; of the paper, pens, pencils and erasers we use at school or in the office every day; of the furniture in our homes and the objects and clothes that are stored in this furniture. We could continue the list, the result would be very long.

Let’s think now about how long the objects we use every day last: most of them have a very short life, we use them and then we throw them away. This happens, for example, with the packaging that contains food or products bought at the supermarket. Boxes containing toothpaste tubes or a toothbrush are immediately thrown away; the same goes for the cardboard that wraps fruit juices, the plastic packages enclosing many vegetables or fruits, and so on. What then happens to the tube of toothpaste when it’s finished and to the toothbrush when it’s worn out? We simply throw them away because they are no longer useful to us. The same applies to all the objects that are part of our lives: when we feel that they are no longer useful, we throw these objects away, turning them into waste.

This way of dealing with consumer goods has been called the “linear economy”. According to this model of production and consumption, the life of each product is essentially marked by five stages: extraction, production, distribution, consumption and disposal. This means that industry extracts virgin raw materials, transforms them to produce consumer goods using labour and energy, distributes the products to the consumer who, after using them, discards what he no longer needs, that is the products themselves, which have now become “waste”. Each stage of a product’s life requires raw materials and energy and generates waste and polluting emissions.

According to this model of economy, every item of consumer goods goes from the cradle to the grave: this means that products have a beginning and an end, in fact, their life ends in the dustbin, where the material becomes waste, unusable for production purposes. It is now globally acknowledged that this use of resources, combined with steady population growth, increasing consumption and often inefficient use of resources, is no longer sustainable. If this trend continues at the current rate, we will find ourselves needing two planets by 2050.

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